Science + Tech

What is net neutrality and why it matters

Net neutrality

Just when you thought 2017 could not get any weirder, trust the U.S. to prove you wrong.

By now, you may have come across the term, ‘net neutrality’ on your social media sites, or in the news. Or maybe right here on Leanwords.

On December 14, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote to change America’s Internet regulation to allow for a more controlled service delivery.

In simpler terms, the FCC will be voting to decide the type and speed of content you can access on the Internet.

Net neutrality

Source: National Observer

What is Net Neutrality?

‘They’re the rules that ensure that when you log onto the Internet … you get the whole Internet. When you log in it means that your Internet service provider can’t pick and choose what you see online.

They can’t charge you more for some content or less for others, and they’re not allowed to discriminate against competing content to make sure that … when you pay your internet bill, you get the entire internet when you log in.’ [CBC]

Who is against net neutrality?

Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer and current FCC chairman is leading a charge to repel net neutrality regulations that were made law in 2015.

According to Pai (44), ending net neutrality will be a “pro-competitive” move and put an end to “heavy-handed” government regulation.

He believes that net neutrality has hindered innovation ‘due to vague wording on what conduct is acceptable, which stops companies from trying new ideas in an effort to avoid possible penalties.’

Interestingly, he also believes that ‘the internet thrived without common carrier status from 1996 to 2015.

Pai is representing the interests of some of America’s giant telecom conglomerates like Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc.

Net Neutrality

Source: Imgur

Why does it matter now? 

‘So essentially what they’re trying to do in the U.S. — taking away these net neutrality rules — means that the internet is going to look a lot more like your cable package which is exactly why we’re turning to the internet: to get away from those cable packages.

So it means that you’re going to start to see things like bundles the same way that we have sports packages and movie packages on TV. We’ll start to see things like social media packages or news packages on the Internet, which means that you could be charged more for any individual piece. And there’s going to be extraordinary fees to unlock the entire Internet the way that we already have access to it now.’ [CBC]

How do Canadians stand affected? 

Repelling the net neutrality regulation would have negative consequences on Canadian businesses and consumers.

Quite simply, if a two-tier Internet is put in place (a fast tier and a not-so-fast tier), businesses will be required to pay more to have their content on the fast tier. This in-turn necessitates consumers will pay more to access their content.

Net Neutrality

Source: Quartz

‘So if Netflix has to pay extra to make sure that it’s in internet fast lane in the U.S., they’re going to have to pass those fees onto their customers. And it’s really unlikely that they limit that to just the American customer base when they can diffuse it over a larger audience. So things like Spotify, Netflix or any of our favourite services and websites from the U.S. might get a bit more expensive.’ [CBC]

On the flip side, if these businesses cannot afford the fees, access to their content may be slowed down or blocked entirely.

‘The potential to limit innovation has a made-in-Canada example, said Byron Holland, president of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority.

“Netflix’s growth might [sic] have been stunted without net neutrality since Rogers and Shaw Communications Inc. could have made it more difficult to access it in favour of Shomi, the inferior streaming service they co-owned. Instead, Shomi was shuttered in 2016.” [Financial Post]

What next?

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has spoken in favour of upholding net neutrality in Canada, and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains agrees with his views.

Canada is “very firm about upholding these values no matter what other jurisdictions decide,” said Bains.

“This is a critical issue of our time, like freedom of the press and freedom of expression centuries ago. I firmly support the basic principles of the internet around openness, fairness and freedom.” [Vice]

Meanwhile, ‘Canada’s biggest media companies appear to want to put an end to net neutrality [in Canada], in the name of blocking piracy.’ [CanadaLand]

The Financial Post speculates that ‘Pai is likely to get his way, as the committee has three Republican and two Democratic commissioners.’

It also reports that ‘the Democrats are trying to delay the vote scheduled for Dec. 14, because millions of comments submitted in an online consultation appear to be fake or made with stolen identities.’

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